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Tar Sands and Cognitive Dissonance

Environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic are aghast at the news that the European Union (EU) is proposing to scrap a mandatory requirement to label tar sands crude as highly polluting.  On Oct. 7, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard released the revised draft plan of the EU’s fuel quality directive and stated that “It is no secret that our initial proposal could not go through due to resistance faced in some member states.”

It’s a triumph of five years of lobbying by both the tar sands industry and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has poured millions of taxpayer dollars into getting the EU to back off from labelling tar sands oil as “dirty oil” that contributes heavily to greenhouse gas emissions, thereby restricting its import into Europe.

Of course, the  tar sands industry and the Canadian business press are gloating.

Greg Stringham, vice-president of the key industry lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told the Financial Post (Oct. 7), “Many thought in Europe that [Canadian] industry and governments were opposed to carbon policy.  When they found out we already have one that covers 100% of the oil sands in Alberta, they were surprised.” (1)

But the EU news came on the same day that Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released a scathing report on the federal government’s failure to reduce carbon emissions and conduct environmental monitoring in the tar sands.

Commissioner Julie Gelfand said at her Oct. 7 press conference, “My biggest concern is it does not look like Canada will meet its international [emission reductions] commitment” by 2020.  “I think that when you make a commitment, you need to keep it, and it’s very difficult for us, for Canada, to expect other countries to meet their commitments when Canada can’t meet its own.” (2)

Talk about cognitive dissonance!  Or is it just that the EU has naively swallowed a large quantity of tar sands PR swill?

Commissioner Gelfand stated that Canada has “no overall plan, national plan” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and “the evidence is pretty strong that we will not meet the target” for carbon reduction.  As part of the Copenhagen Accord, Canada pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 17 per cent, from 2005 levels, by 2020.  In fact, emissions are rising exponentially as tar sands production expands.

Gelfand also revealed that the federal Conservative government has been sitting on a draft of regulations for the oil and gas sector for at least a year.  The Harper government has promised emissions regulations for the tar sands since 2006.

Gelfand’s report says that “detailed regulatory proposals have been available internally for over a year,” but the Harper government has only consulted privately through a “small working group of one province and selected industry representatives.” According to Toronto’s The Globe & Mail (Oct. 7), “Ms. Gelfand said she believes that province was Alberta and the internal consultation ‘does not meet the criterion’ of a world-class system.  ‘What we found was that the consultation has occurred narrowly and privately.  We made a recommendation to the government that they need to develop an overall plan for developing [oil and gas emissions] regulations.  Canadians want to know when the regulations are going to come in, what level of regulation it’s going to be, what level of greenhouse gas reduction we’re going to achieve…’”

No doubt, the EU would want to know this too – had it not been so effectively bamboozled by petro-state PR.

Financial Post energy columnist Claudia Cattaneo explained (Oct. 7) that “Canada rightly challenged environmental groups’ fact-light smear campaign.  The governments of Alberta, Canada, CAPP and European oil sands producers [like BP and Total] and suppliers all played a role in explaining how Canada develops and regulates its oil sands resources.  Alberta alone dispatched representatives to 24 out of 28 EU member states.” (3)

Meanwhile, back in Canada the reality is quite different.

Gelfand revealed that Harper government also has no firm plan to conduct environmental monitoring of the tar sands after 2015.  That, of course, fits with the fact that the Harper government has already gutted most federal environmental legislation since 2012, and has conducted an extensive “war on science” by muzzling and firing thousands of public-sector environmental scientists, leaving few to do any monitoring or oversight. (4)

The revised EU proposal still has to be debated by member states and will be done so through “a fast-track procedure meant to take less than two months.” (5)  It also needs to be signed off by the European Parliament.

Tar sands oil is already being exported to Europe via supertanker, so it’s no surprise the proposal is being fast-tracked.  But at the same, the EU leaders are indulging in their own form of cognitive dissonance: at a summit this month they are outlining new climate goals, including a proposed 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions (6).  Just how that can be achieved while importing “climate-wrecking fuels like tar sands” (as Greenpeace puts it) is anyone’s guess.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.

Footnotes.  

1) http://business.financialpost.com/2014/10/07/how-ottawa-stared-down-the-eu-on-the-oil

2) Josh Wingrove, “Scathing Report Details Canada’s Environmental Shortfalls,” The Globe & Mail, October 7, 2014.

3) http://business.financialpost.com/2014/10/07/how-ottawa-stared-down-the-eu-on-the-oil

4) Joyce Nelson, “Harper’s War on Science,” Watershed Sentinel, Summer 2013.

5) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/9ct/07/eu-scraps-plan-to-label-tar-sands

6) http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/european-union-drops-plan-to-label-oilsands-crude-dirt

 

 

 

 

 

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Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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